2 Skinks Found in California! (ID Guide)

What kinds of skinks are there in California?”

common skinks in California

There’s no question that skinks are one of the most misunderstood animals in California! Are they snakes, or lizards, or some sort of combination?

Interestingly, these creatures are considered lizards, but it’s easy to misidentify them as snakes. They have short limbs, move with a zig-zag pattern, and like to hide under debris just like snakes!

Today, you’ll learn the 2 kinds of skinks in California!


#1. Western Skink

  • Plestiodon skiltonianus

types of skinks in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are up to 8.5 inches long.
  • This species has a broad brown stripe with black edges on the back, bordered in white on each side.
  • The tail is normally pale blue or gray, but the throat and underside of the tail turn red-orange during the breeding season.
  • Young Western Skink’s tails are brilliant blue.

The Western Skink prefers to live in grassland or pine-oak forests near rocky streams and hillsides. This species primarily eats insects and spiders.

You might have trouble finding Western Skinks in California!

Even though they are common, they are very secretive! They spend most of their time under rocks or in burrows.

Like some other lizard species, the Western Skink is capable of autotomy, which is the severing of its own tail when it’s under threat. Once the tail detaches, it continues to move and wriggle, distracting the predator so the skink can escape. Now THAT is a unique way of dealing with stress!

WARNING: If you’re squeamish, this video might not be for you. Please remember the skink does this as a defensive measure and isn’t harmed.

YouTube video

 

There are three subspecies of the Western Skink.

  • Skilton’s Skink, P.s. skiltonianus, is the most widespread subspecies.
  • Great Basin Skink, P.s. utahensis, tends to live in more rocky areas.
  • Coronado Skink, P.s. interparietalis is only found in the southern half of San Diego County in the US.

#2. Gilbert’s Skink

  • Plestiodon gilberti

species of skinks in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are up to 4.5 inches long.
  • Coloring is olive or brown, sometimes with dark spotting but most often plain.
  • As this species ages, the tail becomes brick red to orange, and the head is often red.
  • Young Gilbert’s Skinks have more pronounced light stripes on the sides and a wide olive stripe on the back.

These skinks are habitat generalists and live in many environments in California.

You can find them in grassland, desert areas, salt flats, and open woodland. But generally, they prefer rocky areas near streams, where they eat insects and spiders.

There are currently FOUR recognized subspecies of Gilbert’s Skink! However, this may change in the future because scientists are currently studying these subspecies to determine if they are all valid.

  • Greater Brown Skink (P.g. gilberti): The young of this subspecies have a brighter blue tail, and the females are smaller than the males.
  • Northern Brown Skink (P.g. placerensis): The striping that the young exhibit lasts longer into adulthood in this subspecies
  • Variegated Skink (P.g. cancellosus): The young of this subspecies have a pink tail tinged with blue.
  • Western Red-Tailed Skink (P.g. rubricaudatus): The young of this subspecies have a pink tail with no blue. This is the ONLY subspecies of Gilbert’s Skink found outside of California!

Do you need additional help identifying skinks?

Try this field guide!


Which of these skinks have you seen in California?

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